Toll lanes proposed to be added to Ga. 400 between Sandy Springs and Forsyth County would have no major environmental impacts, according to documents presented by the Georgia Department of Transportation on a “virtual open house” website that will include a live session on Sept. 1.
Among the details in the online presentation are a possible detour route during replacement of the Pitts Road bridge over Ga. 400 in Sandy Springs near the Dunwoody border, and a slightly faster construction timeline than was last announced: a 2022 start and an opening in 2026.
The toll lanes — dubbed “express lanes” by GDOT — are intended to be part of a future metro-wide system. Locally, the toll lanes would run along I-285 and Ga. 400. While the toll lanes eventually would be part of a unified, interconnected system, GDOT has divided them into subsections for planning and construction purposes. The “Ga. 400” project includes only the part of the highway from the North Springs MARTA Station northward; the southern piece of Ga. 400 in Perimeter Center is within the I-285 project because it involves a lot of connection-building with that highway. And the I-285 part of the toll lanes was itself broken up into multiple sections, including east, west and top end.
The toll lane plans have drawn controversy for possible impacts on local traffic and for the need to take property. The Ga. 400 project will require demolishing about 45 homes in Sandy Springs and about five businesses, according to GDOT. GDOT says the toll lanes would speed up overall traffic by letting paying drivers go faster than those in the free lanes.
The Ga. 400 lanes and possibly the I-285 toll lanes would carry MARTA buses using new dedicated stations.
The Ga. 400 project includes around 16 miles of toll lanes between the North Springs MARTA Station off Peachtree-Dunwoody Road and the McFarland Parkway area in Forsyth. It includes interchanges at the MARTA station and at Grimes Bridge Road, Tradewinds Parkway and Union Hill Road.
The proposed Pitts Road detour includes using Roberts Drive and Northridge and Roswell roads.
A draft environmental impact report — a document required by the federal and state governments before major road projects can proceed — says that the toll lanes would not exceed air quality standards for the metro Atlanta area, so further study is not needed. The report includes information about MARTA buses using the lanes, but specific environmental impacts of such buses are not addressed in the report.
The project would include widening the highway bridge over the Chattahoochee River, which is federally protected and part of which is a national park. The National Park Service has recommended approval for the project, according to documents on the website, because there is no practical alternative, no long-term “adverse impacts,” and no net loss of wetlands. An area of wetlands would be lost, but GDOT would give money to NPS to buy more, the documents say.
In terms of traffic noise, the draft report says, the route would receive an estimated 4.7 decibel increase over the current sound levels by 2046. Some spots would receive more impacts of 15 decibels or more, which would make them eligible to get noise barriers, the report says.
GDOT’s online open house includes a variety of project documents and a link to send comments, with a deadline of Sept. 22. The live session on Sept. 1 will be on the same website, starting with a formal presentation at 5:30 p.m. and a question-and-answer session with GDOT officials continuing to 7:30 p.m. The meeting will be recorded and available on the site for the duration of the public comment period.
For the Sept. 1 live session, people can also phone in for audio only, with English-speakers using 1-888-400-1932 and Spanish-speakers using 1-888-400-9342.
In addition to the virtual options, GDOT is offering a limited “drive-through,” in-person open house available by appointment only on Sept. 8, between 5 and 8 p.m. at its district office in Chamblee. People using that option will be able to view handouts and project layouts while asking questions of project team members, all while remaining in their personal vehicles. To make an appointment for that option, people must call 404-556-9816 no later than Sept. 2.
Meanwhile, the I-285 toll lane projects are on a separate timeline. GDOT earlier this year issued a response to public comments about those projects.
The toll lanes projects are separate from the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange reconstruction project that is currently under construction. That project, known as “Transform 285/400,” began in 2017 and is expected to wrap up late next year. However, the toll lanes would run through the interchange area and connect with it.